Pirates Fighting Among Themselves While the Spanish Galleon Sails On Up

pirates_of_the_carribean.jpgThis past summer I went to a baseball game. It wasn’t completely without benefit. I enjoyed indulging in the traditional stadium food and libations, the $1 hot dogs formed from some unrecognizable substance and the “it shall offend no one” stadium beer (nor shall it please anyone, but let’s not be sticklers). While being herded out with the crowds I noticed that many people seemed to be truly elated or dejected based on the victor in this sports match. Who won? Who cares! While I really tried to get into the spirit of things, I just couldn’t work up a good head of steam around caring who hit a little while ball farther or ran around a dirt track before that little white ball could touch them. Baseball is a perfectly fine way to spend an afternoon, and it’s a hoot to sit there cheering with the crowd and jeering at the umpires, but it didn’t seem to be worth agonizing or celebrating the outcome. Maybe I am missing a sports gene? Is it carried on the X chromosome but recessive? Or is it dominant and on the Y chromosome? Who knows, but it got me thinking . . .

There we were . . . sitting in the stadium with 30,000 other people focusing some attention and plenty of money on a contest that ultimately doesn’t mean a darn thing in the world at large. Then it occurred to me. Isn’t that just like some projects? Various contingents battling it out fiercely while competitors rage at the gates. Engineering vs. Marketing, Executives vs. middle managers, the project manager against “the world” . . . one big drama . . . pirates fighting each other on their own ship while the Spanish Galleon sails up and blows them out of the water.

Like some projects, this game was full of drama but not much substance . . . just a lot of jousting among the knights of the oblong rhomboid table. No damsels rescued, no dragons slain, but most everyone pretty satisfied with the hoopla. We can sometimes be quite content with the illusion of progress provided by struggle, challenge and triumph rather than meaningful progress. Real or perceived differences distract us, consume us, while real threats approach undetected and extraordinary opportunity passes us by unnoticed. Like ants marching aon the back of an elephant, we are mercifully unaware of the futility of our battles and struggles.

It sure is fun to play games, pit ourselves against others, and “dis” our rivals. But let’s not pretend that we’re accomplishing anything by those actions. When we’re ready to step up and do something that matters, we’ll have to look beyond the distinction of individuals, teams and rivals to what it’s really going to take to achieve our goals and make a difference in the world.

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2 thoughts on “Pirates Fighting Among Themselves While the Spanish Galleon Sails On Up”

  1. Baseball!
    Well, let me start by saying that I am a very big baseball fan and I learned many life lessons from baseball that are extremely useful in the practice of project management (e.g. teamwork, respect for one’s teammates and opponent, play hard/celebrate hard, and practice practice practice).

    So, I found myself bristling reading “Who cares!” Then I realized that there are two different things going on: the act of playing and the act of observing. Obsessed fans do seem focused too intensely on an outcome that ultimately has no real impact. For the players, however, it’s very real. It’s about demonstrating honing skills key to their success in their chosen profession.

    I don’t know whether it’s chromosomes, but I use aspects of competitive sports as an important analogy in my working life. I totally agree with Kimberly that we can’t afford to squander all our energies on the irrelevant. I’m still going to occasionally root for the home team and cry (just a little) when they lose — then get back to the “real game.”

  2. The first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie had a neat soundbite about the pirate code being only “guidelines.” The observant PM learns that you cannot always trust management to follow through on commitments and you need to be more thorough in negotiations to clarify all terms.

    The sequel has the hero saying “I’m just an innocent bystander.” However, there are no bystanders. Pirate Jack Sparrow has a debt to pay and the time is now. We all have accountability to make our projects successful.

    As Kimberly says in her original post,each of us needs to step up and do something that matters. That’s what project management is about–achieving results that matter. It may take developing a political plan (see “Offerings” at http://www.englundpmc.com) to plot a path and set of action steps around the power plays and politically motivated practices that occur in every organization. Developing trust, negotiating requirements and levels of support, and following through on interdependencies are commitments we need to make in order to complete projects successfully.

    Randy Englund

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